England still fixated on the evil influence of Johnny Foreigner

By Tony Attwood

Nationalism can always work people up.  It is emotional – perhaps especially so for an island kingdom that claims to have invented football but only won an international football competition when allowed to play all its games at Wembley.

So does it matter how many players in England are “home grown”?  Does it matter that we have foreign owners and foreign managers?  And if it does why?  Does it affect other countries – do they have quotas in order to reach the World Cup finals?  Was it foreign influence that led to England’s awful display in the last under 21 competition when we left the finals after three matches and no wins?

If we think back we can remember that when England won the world cup in 1966 all the players in the team played in the Football League and the Football League was made up of primarily players from the UK and Ireland.

Everything changed with the case of Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association ASBL v Jean-Marc Bosman in 1995 – in the European Court of Justice.  The Bosman ruling.   It decided that footballers were entitled to the same rights within the EU as the rest of us, and so could move from place to place.

But between 1909 (when England started to play non-UK nations) and 1966 England didn’t win anything (although to be fair we withdrew from Fifa for quite a long time during that period, but we still could lose to Scotland quite often) and then after that, despite having our top division full of UK players – of whom around 90% were English – we still didn’t win anything.   The sort of league that we see today with many non-English nationals playing in it, only took off post-Bosman.  It was impossible before 1995.

So with a league full of English players, or a league full of non-English players – it makes no difference.  England still doesn’t win unless it can play all its games at home.

But you wouldn’t know that listening to the FA, or looking at the newspapers that hang on their every word.  You’d think that yes this is the issue.  All those non-English players in the Premier League.  What a disaster!

Except, it isn’t an utter disaster.  Football is a major industry for the UK economy.  In 2011 the accountancy firm Saffery Champness released the statement that the Premier League contributed over £1 billion to the Exchequer in taxation.

That of course is not an issue that people consider when, for example, there is talk about restricting the number of foreigners in the country (a major topic in the UK at the moment – along with the proposal for the UK to leave the EU).  A lot of that money would go, as we would gradually drift back to a UK players only league.

But this vague notion that the nationality of a person should actually matter when watching football hasn’t always been there.   Arsenal used non-English players from the start (mostly Scottish, but soon also Welsh and Irish – Ireland being part of the Kingdom at the time).   Our first fully non-UK player was an Egyptian named Ahmed Fahmy who played a season in the reserves in the early 1920s.

But even in home internationals nationality wasn’t quite everything.  Indeed as the recent article on the Arsenal  History Society site reported when the Wales goalkeeper was injured in a 1909 international, the word went out to find a replacement keeper or any nationality who could join in. They found one and he was cheered to the rafters.   Yes the crowd cheered for its country, but there were limits.

Now nationality is easy to get – you can claim to be English through a grandparent, or through being born in the country of foreign parents, or through living here for a while.

The CIES Football Observatory is the latest organisation to join in the hysteria that nationality matters, saying that the Premier League has the lowest proportion of homegrown players (using the Uefa definition) who are English – 77%.  In Germany  96% of homegrown players were qualified to play for their country.  It was 93% in France, 92% in Spain and 79% in Italy.

In terms of bringing homegrown players through the ranks England is behind France’s Ligue 1 (24.6%) La Liga (22.4%) and Germany’s Bundesliga (16.4%).

Raffaele Poli, head of the CIES Football Observatory, said “The low percentage of club-trained players in England confirms that if clubs have the money to buy talent, they tend to be reluctant to give a chance to youth academy players. So one question is: why are clubs signing the best prospects, if they know they will not play?”

It’s a decent question, but not really a very important one.  The answer is that no one can actually tell how well or badly a player will turn out, but bringing through a player can be a great way to add talent to the squad when it works, and is cheaper than paying a fee – especially if the club that has the player you want won’t sell.

But for every Jack Wilshere who seems to have signed for Arsenal at birth, and every Walcott, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain brought from other UK clubs early on, there are so many more who look brilliant for a while but simply don’t make it through to the highest level.

Just look at the number of youth players that are let go each year – and look where they go.  There are exceptions of course, but mostly it is a case of heading for the lower reaches of the Football League.

And yes, we all know Chelsea is overplaying the system (they were reported as having 26 players out on loan in September) but by and large the system works as a way of trying to find and bring through the best talent for the clubs.

But there is still much that is wrong with the CIES Football Observatory analysis. “The key issue is talented players must play as much as possible in adult leagues,” they said in a press release. “There is a highly positive correlation between matches played between 18 and 21 in professional leagues, irrespective of the level, and future career path.”

This is contrary to the philosophy of Mr Wenger who says players don’t need early competitive matches unless they are of the highest quality and coming through quickly.

And it is contrary to the philosophy of  journalists and bloggers.  Think of the fuss made when Bellerin was given his first match in the Champions League.  It was suggested this was evidence of the insanity of the management in using a youngster and not having a seasoned international in the position.

It is, it seems, one of these ideas that is good in theory – bring through the youngsters in an English team – but not in practice when the club calls upon a highly talented youngster and gives him a role in an important game.

It also isn’t a very sacrosanct Uefa rule either.  Uefa requires clubs competing in the Champions, or Europa, League to have eight homegrown players in their squads.  Homegrown here means overseas players who trained for three years at a club during their youth.   That policy was blown to bits when Manchester City, having been found guilty of flagrantly breaking FFP rules, were allowed to reduce that to five, after their overall squad was limited to 21.  If ever there was a sign that the home grown regs were window dressing that was it.

But should we bother at all with home grown notions, with promoting English talent and the like?   When all Englishmen played in England we were by and large pretty poor at internationals.  When our league attracts lots of foreigners were are pretty poor at internationals.  That doesn’t look like cause and effect to me.

But English people are good at blaming foreigners – it is something that seems to be a fundamental part of the English makeup.  Greg Dyke is a regular hand at this game, as when he said  “If your top league is largely foreign owned with foreign managers, why should those in control care about developing the England team?”

What he could have said was, “When our top league was wholly English owned with English managers, we were crap at international football, so it is time to try another approach.”   I’m not advocating that, but that at least makes more sense.

Mind you this is the same Greg Dyke who promised investment in grass-roots facilities after Sport England got so pissed off with the FA that it withdrew all its funding for grass roots football.  At least the newspapers are starting to talk about the past quarter century of utter neglect for grassroots football.  But Dyke wants £230m after alienating the one source of money he had, and still trying to find ways to pay for Wembley.

We all know that the key indicator of whether a nation is any good at football or not is the number of top quality coaches per thousand players.  And if you are a regular Untold reader you will know where I am going next. Yes I have said this about 20 times on these pages – but it was one of my little triumphs of analysis so permit me to slip it in again.


32 Replies to “England still fixated on the evil influence of Johnny Foreigner”

  1. Tony – I agree.

    Reiterating my earlier point, the way to get more coaches is to make free, or hugely subsidise, the coaching courses. It takes a lot of time to get through the higher coaching badges – and then to charge a whack as well deters a lot of otherwise willing and able people. I have just checked my local County FA and time commitment/costs are as follows:

    Level 1: £150, 32 hours.
    Level 2: £295, 75 hours.

    For Level 3 and above have to go to National FA (so need to travel as well!).

    Level 3 (UEFA B): £720, 17 days.

    Only available for coaching U14s or higher and quite hard to get on to if no pro experience. See: http://www.thefa.com/st-georges-park/fa-learning/fa-national-courses/the-fa-uefa-b-licence

    Level 4 (UEFA A): £4,685, 20 days residential (St Georges Park). Plus a prep course.

    Only offered if you are coaching at at least semi-pro or elite youth level. Seems very hard to get on. Follow through from above link if you are really interested!

    Pro Licence: £7,595, 30 days + offsite, club visits etc. Not really worth writing any more about!

    Courses seem good though!

    Kudos to the Brentford Manager who used to work in financial services before switching career aged 40. At least it is possible!

  2. To follow up on my previous post, younger children would certainly benefit from many more UEFA B and A coaches. The problem now is that pro academies select children at the age of 5 or 6. Many kids haven’t even started playing by then! Inevitably, the chosen few who are well-coached will pull away from all the other kids who are not. As the majority of children will miss the boat through no fault of their own, it will be exceptionally difficult for them to catch up. Therefore, as a nation, we seem to have ruled out a large chunk of the potential population.

    My view as a parent is that I should encourage my children with the activities they want to do – but not force them to do something they are less keen on, or just not ready for.

    My son started playing age 3 but the coach was useless and he dropped out. He then started again at age 6 but didn’t really “get it” until he was 7. He has since done well, and enjoyed it, but obviously he has no chance whatsoever of playing professionally – fortunately, he hasn’t ever really had any aspirations to.

    It is possible to break into pro academies later on – but very hard.

    Make of that what you will!

  3. Funnny when supporters watch England struggle, it’s all the foreign players fault. But then celebrate when instead of buying that striker from a Championship side they celebrate when their club buys that 2nd division Spaniard.

  4. It appears as if the FA want to try and blame Jonny foreigner for their own financial mismanagement.

    There’s a wider metaphor in there somewhere…

  5. “But English people are good at blaming foreigners”

    In this sentence lies the whole issue: immigrant and foreigner bashing no matter the evidence to the contrary. Immigrants GREAT VALUE to the UK economy and indeed all spheres of the country’s life but all we hear all the time is scourge of the immigrants ruining the country.

    I applaud you Tony for your constant calling out of the establishment for perpetuating this untruth rather than enlighten the people on the reality of the matter.

  6. @Pete

    Some interesting points you make there. As a recently qualified UEFA B Licence coach and someone who is involved with Brentford Football Club in various guises, I also have the following to add:

    The UEFA B courses are also regional as well as national, and you need to be working as a coach either in pro club academies or semi-professional adult clubs to have the appropriate access to players, facilities and footballing ability to pass the course!

    However, the biggest problem is that there are 2 UEFA B Licence courses, one for the career coaches (like myself), and the PFA version for senior professional players where they are fast-tracked through, having done a fraction of the work and knowledge acquisition that I had to do on my course!
    To illustrate the differences, James Scowcroft (ex-Ipswich Town player) attended the FA-run UEFA B course whilst he was doing his PFA course, and he was astounded at the depth and detail the FA-run version goes into in terms of the game of football and its intricacies compared to the PFA course.

    The same applies for the A Licence, which I hope to do in the next year or 2. As for you mentioning Brentford and Mark Warburton, he actually had a bit of coaching experience at Watford and was Brentford’s sporting director when Uwe Roesler was manager; he originally applied for the manager’s job when Uwe was appointed too.

    Our Academy is different in that many of the coaches that work there are ‘proper’ coaches as opposed to ex-pros who need ‘looking after’ with a job; we also have a high proportion of non-white coaching, medical, analysis, sports science and recruitment staff in the set-up as a whole.

    The coaching courses take a lot of time, effort and commitment, and only slowly is the shift in England changing from ‘who did you play for?’ to ‘where and when have you coached?’; people like Jose Mourinho (for all his faults), Andre Villas-Boas, Russell Slade, Nigel Adkins etc, who didn’t play the game at any particular level but learnt the game as coaches are the start of this shift. Unfortunately, this will take a long time to take full effect…

  7. Hard to pinpoint exactly the first invasion by Johnny Foreigner. Could always start with the Romans (Britain under roman rule for 700 years or so)but then of course all those Angles and Saxons and Vikings (did Ancient Norse sound a wee bit Geordie) plus the Normans. Celts, Picts and Scots swarming all over the place plus a few lost tribes of Israel no doubt. And then most wonderfully the legacy of Empire, not to mention children and grandchildren of the Antipodean deported, before European integration has caused further migration. All good, all why this silly little northern island remains not such a bad place to be.
    Don’t think it is the fault of foreigners that English football is relatively weak given the overall strength of the country: perhaps better to look to sports like Cricket, Rugby and Athletics and see how they seem to encourage youngsters to play and excel.

  8. In those Roman empire days I think they would have been called Julius Foreigner…

  9. Vikrant – Really interesting, thank you. Glad to know that there is a route in for non-ex pro’s… but a little shocked to hear that ex-pro’s get so fast-tracked. Must say, I have always wandered about it when I hear that “X will be doing his coaching badges over the summer”. How on earth can they do Levels 1-5 over one summer with all the sequential practical experience required? There aren’t even any matches taking place for would-be coaches to work with players!

    Also impressed by what you write about Brentford. So not just Warburton then! Seems like a well-run club (notwithstanding Greg D’s prior involvement!) – great to see them holding their own in the Championship after their overdue promotion. I know that Szczesny had a good experience there.

  10. Boo – I agree with you.

    In my line of work there are a great number of talented foreigners working here. They come to London because that is where the best jobs in Europe are. They work hard, pay taxes and – in several cases I am personally familiar with – start their own businesses, employ people and pay even more taxes!

    I can understand the argument that the UK (and England in particular) is small and over-crowded. London is creaking a bit: the population has grown by 1% a year for the last 15 years – believe 40% of the resident population were born overseas. If you add 2nd generation immigrants and folk originating from elsewhere in the UK the proportion who are native-born indigenous must be very small. But has that diminished the greatness of this city? Quite the contrary I would say.

    Speaking as a native-born, indigenous Londoner…

    The other perspective I bring is that I have lived overseas in the past (drawn back by Arsenal!) and can appreciate what it is like to be welcomed into another community.

    Most people, on a 1 to 1 level, are very friendly, welcoming and helpful – all over the world. It is just a pity about the remainder.

  11. Bootoomee

    I am not well read.

    I am not academic.

    I am not political.

    I read very very little in papers, least of all the political stuff.

    But even I know and can appreciate the enormously positive influence immigration has had on the British economy. I have seen a few documentaries and such like that have looked into the ‘overall’ effect of immigration and there is no doubt of the benefits.

    Of course we have issues with immigration, especially it seems the location and deportation of illegals. We also have an issue with benefit tourists that the authorities seem to have problems tackling. Sadly it is these 2 negatives as opposed to all the positives that make the headlines.

    You never see a lead story such as:

    Immigrant starts business in UK. Business expands. Business employs thousands. Business goes global. Business earns UK economy Billions.

    But you will hear:

    Immigrant costs Country thousands in benefits.

    Again it is down to our corrupt media peddling any bullshit they like to fit there corrupt self serving agendas.

    Our football media, like the ignorant sheep they are will lap this kind of xenophobic tripe up like pigs at a trough.

  12. A chain email I received recently that seems spot on… To be fair, I haven’t made it outside Heathrow in my European visits.

    One of the British national daily newspapers is asking readers: “What does it mean to be British?”
    Some of the emails are hilarious but this is one from a chap in Switzerland…

    “Being British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, then travelling home,
    Grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab on the way, to sit on Swedish furniture & watch American shows on a Japanese TV.
    And the most British thing of all? To be suspicious of anything foreign.

  13. Pete & Jambug,

    What infuriates me the most is the members of the political class perpetuating this nonsense. The media are useless baiters who only feed the public’s ignorance to enrich themselves but I expect the PM and other high ranking leaders of the country who clearly know better to enlighten the people rather than ride their unfounded resentment into power.

    That was what David Cameron and his party did in 2010 to get power. I saw the debates in 2010 and if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought that the country was going through a serious crisis and the immigrants were responsible. Say what you might about Gordon Brown but has a special place in my heart for speaking for us voiceless immigrants at a time when bashing us was the politically expedient thing to do.

    I find it poetic (although extremely sad and frightening) that Cameron is now fighting for his political life against a worse demagogue in Nigel Farage. Maybe if he had been telling the British public the truth about immigration in the last 4/5 years, they might be used to the truth now and he wouldn’t have any need to out-crazy Farage on the matter.

    Anyway, this is about football so I’ll stop with my political ranting now.

  14. Sorry to go further off topic, but what is really interesting is that, notwithstanding the rise of UKIP, Opinion Polls have recently shown a consistent (albeit small) lead for STAYING in the EU. 2 or 3 years ago the anti’s were 10-20% ahead.

    I like to stay abreast of current affairs but had not noticed this. Seems to have been somewhat hushed up.

    Doesn’t really fit with (most of) the press line on nasty foreigners in general and the horrible EU in particular.

    Perhaps the British people have more wisdom than the media give them credit for?

  15. Pete,

    As an ardent supporter of EU, I am delighted by the poll you stated. You also asked the pertinent point about this key shift in public opinion taking place despite all the demagoguery. One would think such shift would make headlines but here we are.

  16. Pete, that could alter very quickly in light of the £1.7 billion bill that the EU has just handed to Britain- essentially a growth penalty!

  17. There are obviously bad, as well as good points to being in the EU, but to coin a phrase, it is better to be on the inside pissing out than the outside trying to piss in. 🙂

    I am in a Union, though not in any active capacity, and even they champion remaining in the EU, though not unanimously.

    They listed a raft of tory proposed legislation that was all aimed at reducing workers rights, conditions and pay etc. that was deemed ‘illegal’ under European law.

    The working man is oppressed enough in this Country but God knows how bad it would be had the incumbents really had there way.

    Like you Boo I know this isn’t a political site and I have side tracked quite a bit but this ridiculous FA phobia regarding foreigners in the PL is way way wide of the mark and merely a smoke screen to hide other more doming failures of there own design.

  18. @initialsBB,
    Couldn’t agree more. The good old English Channel has ever been our saviour, except once.
    Let it remain so and let the original conception of Europe be as a free trade area and nothing more. Meanwhile Brussels can concentrate on chocolate, beer and chips… 😉

  19. Should the roof fall in and the lunatics engineer a UK exit from the EU will the Bosman ruling apply to the UK?

    There are a thousand questions like this, from the EU regulatory Manual Handling Regulations to the question of pension payments for those of us who have lived more than three years in another EU country.

    None of these questions get asked. As to England winning the World Cup, I watched it in a friend’s flat in Copenhagen in 1966. It always seemed to me Englandf could never win anything ever again because class predetermines the reality of the succesful English player.

    They are divorced from their class, their community. There is nothing there to nourish their self-respect.

  20. Initials – Maybe. There is some interesting stuff in the Economist this week about Britain, the EU and immigration. Most sensible economic studies show that the EU and immigration provide a major boost to Britain’s economy – far in excess of £1.7bn (and that a correction over a 20 year period).

    There is a huge amount wrong with the EU, particularly the single currency, but if we exit we will still have to abide by the same regulations but will have no influence at all over them. Ask the Swiss who are currently tying themselves in knots over this.

  21. InitialsBB,

    Are you also aware of the money that the UK got from the EU in 2008 during the recession? Check it out please. IT IS A FACT!

    Then when you have done so, kindly spread the news as you are currently doing about the money that the UK is paying in as a result of being relatively more successful than some of the other members.

    This is just like the anti-immigrant noise that we hear all the time but not with the important information about how immigrants are taking a lot less than they are contributing to this country.

  22. Netherlands did will in the World Cup with almost no players on the team playing in the Dutch leagues. Brazil is even a more extreme illustration of this. So to argue that England did poorly at the WC because of to many foreign players in the EPL does not hold water!

    As Tony says the number of youth coaches and the quality of those coaches has more impact. The USA is clearly improving and lots of kids are playing soccer in the USA, but I think there is still a lack of good quality youth coaching in the USA. This affects team depth and quality.

    In Thailand were I reside lots of kids are playing soccer but there is very little quality coaching. This is then reflected in the international completions. If Thailand had more and better coaching then they would be competitive with China, Japan and Korea. As it is they do well in ASEAN but then struggle more with the power houses of Asian Soccer. The domestic league is improving but this along will not be enough to move up in the completion at the Asian level unless Thailand invests more in training coaches.

  23. Bootoomee.

    (A) the 9k million given to us in 2008 was a rebate on the 16k million we had already paid in that year. 16 k million is the aversge Btitain pay the EU annualy.
    (B) i really dont really need to publicise the growth penalty, I am sure all British taxpayers are aware and many equally horrified.
    (C) I am also actually a supporter of free
    movement of people and goods within the EU but believe each country should be allowed introduce its own quotas. However paying to build roads and subsidise agriculture in other EU countries and paying benifits their citizens who have never payed tax in the Uk is an issue for many.

  24. InitialsBB,

    The point is that UK took money from EU when they were worse off than the rest of the Union on average. That is the essence of the Union, those doing well help those struggling. But as the whole country is foaming in the mouth about their money being sent to Brussels, people like you need to start telling them that this is based on agreements made several years ago, which the UK had benefited from (no matter how small) and not some new scheme to steal UK’s tax payers’ money.

    I believe that if more British people are aware of how things work, they’ll be less outraged. The same goes with immigration issue: the more the people are aware of the good that immigrants do rather than the self-serving demagoguery that taps into the public’s ignorance and latent bigotry to make immigrants look like leeches rather than the vital part of the country that they really are.

  25. Initials/Boo – The point is that the EU is not a zero-sum game. The single market and other aspects boost economic growth across all nations.

    In theory the single currency does the same (no currency transaction charges, no need to hedge against future movements, ease of cross-border investment etc). Unfortunately it was designed badly and the mechanisms to deal with asymmetric shocks are inadequate – as were the initial budgetary and fiscal disciplines (and these were generally fudged when in breach anyway).

    Unless drastic measures are taken to fix the imbalances thee is a high risk of the whole thing collapsing – which will cause intense pain. UK better off out of the single currency.

  26. Pete,

    You are nuanced as always and that’s all I’ve ever demanded on the immigration debate. Give the whole picture and let the people make up their own minds in an enlightened way.

    On the single currency issue, I don’t really think it’s a UK issue. I know no one advocating it for the UK. I am strongly pro EU but I think the UK should keep the pound.

  27. No Bootoomee. The point is whether the British taxpayer feel the positives of remaining in the EU outweigh the negatives. The average British taxpayer is actually quite clever and does not need to be made aware of the fact that these agreements were made several years ago- the primary reason they need to be reviewed.

    I am actually not going to get into the positives and negatives of immigration as I dont know enough about it, but as the issue is about to dominate parliment for the next 6 months I am looking forward to being enlightened. However I think the growth of UKIP is a good indicator of feeling on the ground, particularly among the working class, and I do think you will see a lot more evidence for this in the northeast than you
    did in Stratford

  28. InitialsBB,

    I didn’t know you represent all British taxpayers. I am one of them and you clearly have no idea of what you are saying. You seem to be quite content to keep people riled up based on nothing but a feeling of persecution spread by your type with all the dishonest crap you’ve been dishing out here.

    I prefer to give the people all the facts and let them make up their own minds. Unless you are scared that without your propaganda they might stop being so unreasonably angry and suspicious of people unlike them or from other countries.

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